The Posterior Pituitary Gland

The posterior pituitary (or neurohypophysis) comprises the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland which is part of the endocrine system. The posterior pituitary is not glandular as is the anterior pituitary. Instead, it is largely a collection of axonal projections from the hypothalamus that terminate behind the anterior pituitary, and is also a store for the later release of neurohypophysial hormones.

The posterior pituitary consists mainly of neuronal projections (axons) of magnocellular neurosecretory cells extending from the supraoptic andparaventricular nuclei of the hypothalamus. These axons store and release neurohypophysial hormones oxytocin and vasopressin into the neurohypohyseal capillaries, from there they get into the systemic circulation (and partly back to the hypophyseal portal system). In addition to axons, the posterior pituitary also contains pituicytes, specialized glial cells resembling astrocytes assisting in the storage and release of the hormones.

Classification of the posterior pituitary varies, but most sources include the two regions below:

Pars nervosa

Also called the neural lobe or posterior lobe, this region constitutes the majority of the posterior pituitary and is the storage site of oxytocin and vasopressin. Sometimes (incorrectly) considered synonymous with the posterior pituitary, the pars nervosa includes Herring bodies andpituicytes.

Infundibular stalk

Also known as the infundibulum or pituitary stalk, the infundibular stalk bridges the hypothalamic and hypophyseal systems.

The median eminence is only occasionally included as part of the posterior pituitary. Other sources specifically exclude it from the pituitary.

A few sources include the pars intermedia as part of the posterior lobe, but this is a minority view. It is based upon the gross anatomical separation of the posterior and anterior pituitary along the cystic remnants of Rathke's pouch, causing the pars intermedia to remain attached to the neurohypophysis.